* See the Top 15 groups, Top 40 brands and Top 297 models by clicking on the title *
Never before had U.S. consumers purchased that many new light vehicles: thanks to sales up 6% year-on-year, 2015 breaks a 15 year-old annual volume record, lifting it from 17.402.486 (2000) to 17.470.659 this year. This marks the 6th straight year of growth after hitting a 27-year low of 10.4 million in 2009, a stretch that hadn’t been achieved in 90 years (1921-1926). The record is 8 straight years of growth from 1909 to 1917, at the time the Ford Model T was the most popular model in the country and the world. Only August was in negative year-on-year, with the remaining 11 months in positive. The Seasonally Adjusted Annual sales Rate (SAAR) eclipsed 18 million three months in a row for the first time in history between September and November, peaking at 18.23 million in October. 2015 is the first year since 2001 that annual sales are above 17 million, and some analysts including myself predict 2016 will top 18 million, a 3% improvement.
Sales will continue to be driven by low gasoline prices, pent-up demand, widespread credit availability and excellent consumer morale linked to low jobless rates and a dynamic stock market. A fascinating structural mutation of the U.S. car market, leasing accounts for a record 29% of all new U.S. retail sales in 2015 according to Edmunds, to be compared with 27% in 2014 and 16% ten years ago. The growth of leasing goes a long way in explaining the current dynamism of the U.S. light vehicle market, making a car purchase seem less daunting and more accessible despite the spike in average new vehicle transaction price to $33.188 in 2015, up 2.5% from $32.386 in 2014 (Source: Edmunds).
Segment-wise, the analysis of the U.S. market is as simple as it is striking and in line with most worldwide markets: Light trucks (Pickups, SUVs and crossovers) are the one and only force driving sales with a 13% increase in 2015 to 9.73m deliveries while cars are actually down 2% to 7.74m. Crossovers up 18.5% to 4.55m, Pickups are up 10% to 2.54m and SUVs up 11% to 1.71m. Small cars (3.08m) and midsize cars (3.52m) are both down 2% while luxury cars (1.14m) are down 4%. Group-wise, at 7.93m sales the Detroit Three hold 45.4% of the U.S. light vehicle market in 2015 like in 2014 while the Japan Three (Toyota, Nissan, Honda) add up to 31.9% at 5.57m sales, a slight share decrease on 2014 (32.1%). These six groups account for a staggering 77.3% of all U.S. sales in 2015 (13.5m). GM (3.08m) distances Ford Motor (2.6m) and Toyota Motor (2.5m) but in terms of year-on-year gains FCA and Nissan Motor fare the best at +7%.
No less than 14 brands set U.S. annual sales records in 2015. Below the three traditional leaders Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota all up 5%, Honda hits an all-time high 1.409.386 deliveries (+3%) thanks to strong performances by the CR-V – the best-selling SUV in the country, a redesigned Civic, the Pilot (+25%) and the arrival of the HR-V (41.969 incremental sales). Nissan also breaks its record with deliveries up 6% to 1.351.420, helped by stellar performances by the Rogue (+44%), Murano (+33%) and Sentra (+11%) making up for disappointing showings by the Altima (-1%), Maxima (-20%), Juke (-29%) and Leaf (-43%).
The most impressive performer in 2015 is undoubtedly Jeep: with sales up 25% on its 2014 record of 692.348 to a splendid 865.028. If last year’s sales were achieved with minimal incentives, this year is slightly different for Jeep as FCA shifted its incentive focus from Chrysler (and notably the Chrysler 200) to the SUV brand at the end of the year. A little more artificial, a little less authentic: that’s how I would describe Jeep’s 2015 record, albeit very impressive. Jeep places the Cherokee (+23%), Wrangler (+16%) and Grand Cherokee (+7%) in the Top 25 while the Patriot (#42) should be joined in the Top 50 next year by the all-new Renegade, best new entrant in the U.S. market in 2015 at #85 (60.946 sales). The symbolic 1 million annual units is in the line of fire for Jeep in 2016 with an all-time high December (89.654) pointing in that direction.
Knocked down to #7 overall by Jeep, Hyundai nevertheless posts an all-time record year at 761.710 deliveries (+4%) as does sister brand Kia at #8 and 625.818 units (+8%). Subaru is up an outlandish 13% to a best-ever 582.675 sales, with its entire range delivering solid increases: the Forester (+10%), Outback (+10%), Impreza (+20%) and XV Crosstrek (+25%) are all markedly above their 2014 levels. In 10th place, GMC is up 11% to almost return to its 2004 glory at 558.697 sales vs. 581.684 and kicks Dodge (-10%) out of the Top 10. At 493.807 deliveries, Ram also breaks its volume record in 2015 as it has been the case each year since its 2009 spin-off from Dodge. However the brand which would become Ram actually sold more vehicles in 2005 than it did this year.
The luxury segment is another strong driving force behind the record U.S. market this year, with sales up 8% to top 2 million for the first time ever. All luxury brands except Jaguar (-8% but the XE will reverse the trend in 2016) experienced growth in 2015 and most also set annual records. The race for the 2015 luxury crown was very heated, with BMW finishing #1 for the second straight year and the 4th time in the past 5 years thanks to record sales up 2% to 346.023. A record December rallied Lexus up to 2nd place and an all-time high 344.601 (+11%) with Mercedes not far behind at 343.088 excluding Sprinter variants, also a record. After 11 consecutive years of Lexus reign between 2000 and 2011, BMW won the luxury crown in 2011, 2012 and 2014, while Mercedes snapped it in 2013. Audi, topping 200.000 units for the first time at 202.202 (+11%), Land Rover (+37%), Porsche (+10%) and Tesla (+50%) also set annual records.
The last time the Ford F-Series was not the #1 vehicle in the U.S. (in 1981), it looked like this.
The 3 best-selling models in the U.S. are all pickup trucks for the 2nd year running and only the third time in the past two decades along with 2003 and 2014. Boosted by the new aluminium F-150, the Ford F-Series remains the best-selling vehicle in the county for the 34th consecutive year (no interruption since 1982) with sales back up 4% to 780.354, the nameplate’s highest annual score since 2006 (796.039). The F-Series has now been the best-selling pickup truck in the U.S. for 39 years in a row since 1977. Chevrolet took advantage of a wobbly F-150 generational transition early in the year by lifting incentives on the Silverado up 13% to 600.544. With the GMC Sierra up 6% to 224.139, GM’s line of full-size pickups outsells the Ford F-Series for the first time since 2009.
The Toyota Camry remains America’s favourite car for the 14th year in a row and for the 18th time in the past 19 years with stable sales (429.355). It distances the Toyota Corolla (+7%) while the Honda Accord drops one spot and 8% and the Honda Civic (+3%) overtakes the Nissan Altima (-1%). The #1 car in the U.S. has consistently been a Japanese nameplate for almost two decades now, ever since the Ford Taurus sold 401.049 units in 1996. Hopes to reverse this trend are getting leaner as years come by, with both the Ford Fusion (-2% to #12) and Chevrolet Cruze (-17% to #16) actually losing ground year-on-year, while the Chrysler 200 (+52%) is now incentive-less and will fall flat in 2016.
Previous post: USA December 2015: Jeep shoots up 42% in market up 9%
Two years ago: USA Full Year 2013: Ford F-Series at its best since 2006
Full Year 2015 Top 15 groups, Top 40 brands and Top 297 models vs. Full Year 2014 figures.